UCLA vs. Arizona: 4 Keys for Rick Neuheisel in Must-Win Pac-12 Showdown
After a solid 28-25 win over Washington State last week, the UCLA Bruins are back to .500 and fresh off a bye week. At 3-3, UCLA is three wins away from a bowl birth which would help insure head coach Rick Neiheisel's job.
In their last Pac-12 matchup, the Bruins had to contain an explosive passing attack while needing to score frequently to keep the game close.
This week, they'll have to do it all over again.
Much like the Cougars, Arizona is heavily reliant on quarterback Nick Foles and their passing attack to stay in games. Unlike a surprisingly sucessful WSU squad, they are in desperate need of a conference win.
Currently 0-4 in Pac-12 play, the Wildcats have been battered by the likes of Stanford, Oregon, USC and even lowly Oregon State.
Here are four keys to victory for Rick Neuheisel's Bruins as they head to Tuscon Thursday.
Contain Nick Foles
This is easier said than done.
Foles currently ranks second in the nation in passing with 33.5 completions per game. In just six games he has racked up 2255 yards through the air and tossed 15 touchdowns. His 71.53 completion percentage ranks among the best in the nation.
How does UCLA contain someone like that? Pressure.
The defensive line has to come up big Thursday or Foles will pick his way through a depleted UCLA secondary. Last week, Cougar QB Marshall Lobbstael got whatever he wanted offensively, and that was with WSU's insistence on emphasizing the running game.
Arizona should have no illusions about what they can do on the ground, ranking dead last in Pac-12 rushing with a 71.8 yards per game average, so look for a 70-30 split in terms of passing play calls.
Bruins DE Datone Jones will be crucial in UCLA's efforts to pressure Foles. They simply cannot risk sending too many linebackers and getting caught over the middle with a quick slant, making the difference lie with the front four.
If UCLA can take away the pass for at least some of the game and make the Wildcats one-dimensional, look for the Bruins to get their fourth win.
Run the Football
With the one-two punch of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman in the backfield, look for UCLA to have a lot of success running the football against a porous Wildcat defense.
To say that Arizona has struggled defensively would be an understatement. The Wildcats have offered little resistance to opposing offenses this year, ranking dead-last in the Pac-12 in total and rushing defense.
They give up on average just under 200 yards per game on the ground and 291 through the air, putting them near the bottom of the nation in those categories as well.
Franklin and Coleman both rank among the Pac-12's top-10 rushers, averaging 84.8 and 55 yards per game, respectively.
Franklin himself has been on a bit of an upswing with a 110-yard game against the Cougars last week, and looks to stay in form with a week off to get better. Coleman saw limited carries against Washington State, but was productive in short-yardage situations, scoring two touchdowns.
The Bruins should see a lot of daylight against a weak Arizona front seven, so if they capitalize on that early it will go a long way to taking the crowd out of it. Anticipate Franklin to make a handful of 20-yard runs and Coleman to punch it in within the red zone.
Get Kevin Prince Comfortable
The first time UCLA had a QB come off the bench this season, Richard Brehaut stepped in for Kevin Prince against Houston and proceeded to go toe-to-toe with classy Case Keenum through the air. Brehaut had easily his best game of the season, throwing for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
But against San Jose State the junior QB faltered, only netting 145 yards and a touchdown despite facing a weak pass defense. Some of that was the conservative play calling and dropped balls, but Brehaut did miss a few open receivers.
Similarly, Prince had a remarkable game in a supporting role against Washington State after Brehaut went down, finishing 8-of-13 for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
With Arizona on the horizon, Prince might be in for a letdown performance just like Brehaut suffered against the Spartans. Remember, he did throw three picks in the first quarter against Texas.
The job falls to Rick Neuheisel to help get Prince comfortable early.
After his first pick against Texas his confidence quickly shattered. Look for a few quick slants and screens to get Prince going before they test the Wildcat secondary deep.
With big targets like Nelson Rosario and Joseph Fauria meandering upfield, Prince's task should be eased.
The Bruins are favored against Arizona, but a slow start could make what should be a close game turn in the Wildcat's favor. UCLA needs to make plays and execute early to keep the Wildcats from hanging around late.
With Nick Foles under center, Arizona is a threat to score from anywhere on the field at anytime.
Already sitting at 0-4 in conference play with little more than pride to play for, the Wildcats will not play conservatively. The Bruins will need to match their positive play down for down if they have notions about a win.
Again, this responsibility falls to Rick Neuheisel.
Expect more play-action on first down and bombs downfield if Prince gets into a rhythm early. Facing one of the best running attacks in the conference, Arizona will not be able to cheat men out of the box on every down, hopefully giving Prince some one-on-one looks on the outside.
With a balanced offense and a defense that should do just enough, look for the Bruins to win a high-scoring affair in Tucson.
Prediction: UCLA 31, Arizona 24